Young Chimp Throws Rocks at Tourists at Zoo, Gets Hit With Stick by Elder

A young chimpanzee has been filmed throwing rocks at tourists in a zoo in China, before being hit with a stick by an older chimpanzee.

The footage, which was posted to the social media site Weibo, has been viewed over 15 million times since it was posted on March 13.

The clip, which lasts 9 seconds, shows a young chimp throwing a stone from a boulder. A larger chimpanzee then approaches it from behind with a stick with leaves on it, which it uses to strike the smaller chimp. The video can be viewed here.

Many users commented that the video shows a father disciplining his offspring for bad behavior, praising the parenting skills. However, primatologist Cat Hobaiter said the video makes for uncomfortable viewing.

Hobaiter, from the University of St Andrews in the U.K., studies the social behavior of wild chimpanzees. She told Newsweek the footage from the zoo was "disturbing to watch," as this sort of disciplinary behavior was not normal in chimp societies.

"Captive chimpanzees are very different from wild ones in many ways, especially where individuals have unusual rearing histories," she said. "For example, if they've spent a lot of time around or interacting with humans, they learn 'human' behaviors, or if they've been trained for so-called 'entertainment' purposes, which sadly chimpanzees in many zoos still are.

"Wild chimpanzees occasionally use sticks to hit others—but usually in play or display—the behavior in this video is unusual and quite disturbing to watch. It makes me wonder whether these chimpanzees have experienced similar treatment before."

Captive chimpanzees, who are influenced on a daily basis by humans who have become a part of their social group, display a range of behaviors that are not seen in the wild. In 2009, a chimpanzee at a zoo in Sweden started throwing stones at tourists, having created piles of ammo before they arrived. This discovery showed scientists that chimps were able to plan ahead, challenging previous beliefs about their cognitive abilities.

It is unclear whether there is any familial relationship between the younger and older chimpanzee seen in the Weibo video. The location of the zoo was not disclosed.

"Intervening to stop a young chimpanzee doing something is something older chimpanzees do, but usually only where the young chimpanzee is at risk or is directly annoying the older chimpanzee," Hobaiter said. "There is no reason I can think of why the adult chimpanzee would 'care' that this young chimpanzee was throwing rocks, and it's not at all clear that it's the 'parent' we see in the video, so it's very hard to know why it happened. It's very difficult from such a short clip.

"I strongly suspect that people are reading a very human interpretation into this interaction—I doubt the chimpanzees would see it the same way."

Alexander Georgiev, lecturer in primatology at the U.K.'s Bangor University, told Newsweek the older chimp's reaction may not have been connected to the rock throwing. Adult males often display dominance by targeting animals that are less likely to retaliate.

"We don't know what happened before the video started," he said. "The juvenile might have been making a general nuisance of themselves, hence the adult male directed aggression towards them. When there's commotion in a group, the highest-ranking make may often try to assert themselves to prevent things escalating or just to show who's really boss. They can target animals who were involved in the original commotion but sometimes bystanders who just happen to be nearby. With only that short video it's impossible to see the context."

This article has been updated to include quotes from Alexander Georgiev.

young chimp
Stock photo of a young chimpanzee. A chimp at a zoo in China was hit with a stick by an elder after throwing stones at tourists. Getty Images